Governments Explore Using Blockchains to Improve Service – The New York Times

Government agencies usually aren’t the first to try new technology, but the momentum around the blockchain industry has spurred adoption. It helps that some vendors are offering their services pro bono or at a discount, avoiding what is typically an arduous procurement process.Still, there are significant challenges. The technology is immature, with problems around speed, volume and security, Mr. Sirer said. The industry is also immature, with new vendors popping up and dropping out. Finally, political bureaucracy can be a hindrance.Some high-profile projects have stalled. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority concluded that a digital currency would “look broadly similar to, and not clearly superior to, existing infrastructures.” The Texas company building a blockchain-based land registry in Honduras gave up because of communication problems with officials. Isle of Man’s plan to secure internet-connected devices with blockchain halted after the start-up behind it shut down because of a founder spat.Perhaps the biggest gap between expectations and reality occurred in Sierra Leone, where the Swiss foundation Agora was widely reported to have powered the first blockchain election. This turned out to be overzealous marketing. The National Electoral Commission denounced the reports as “fake news,” and Agora acknowledged that it had merely been allowed to record some votes in its presidential election on a blockchain as a demonstration.The Cook County Recorder of Deeds worked on a land registry pilot with velox.RE, a California-based start-up that did the work free. The pilot, which created blockchains for more than a million parcels, took a team of nine people eight months. The system is accessible through a rudimentary website. If you look up the property status of 5801 South Ellis Avenue, for example, you will see hundreds of pairs of 64-character strings, which correspond to transactions going back to 1985.The pilot made it clear that some foundational work is needed before Illinois can move to a blockchain land registry, Mr. Mirkovic said. Records must be digitized. Data formats must be standardized. A law must be passed to require that title transfers be registered with the government. Finally, Illinois voters recently decided to merge the Cook County Recorder of Deeds and the Cook County Clerk’s office, which would delay any decision on blockchains until 2020.The pilot also showed that the agency could solve some problems without blockchain. The pilot inspired the office’s existing software vendor, Conduent, to integrate some blockchain-like concepts into its more conventional design. And in his post-mortem, Mr. Mirkovic pointed to Iowa, where land records were accurate, title insurance was cheap, and citizens could look up information in a statewide online database that did not use blockchain.Mr. Mirkovic hopes that his office can eventually use the technology. “I still believe the idea is too good to ignore,” he said.

Source: Governments Explore Using Blockchains to Improve Service – The New York Times